Saturday of Rogate: The Apostolic Witness of the Ascension

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After the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.

There’s a strong suggestion in this passage that the apostles witnessed Jesus sitting down at the right hand of the Father. This is the only ascension account that mentions Jesus sitting at God’s right hand. All the other accounts simply say He was taken away. Plenty of passages foretell His sitting at God’s right hand, both from the new and old testaments, but only this passage in Mark specifically says He fulfilled those prophecies.

And for this reason, arguably, the apostles must have witnessed it, lest it be mere speculation. If that’s the case, this introduces an interesting question. Were all the parts of the Apostles’ Creed items that were witnessed by the apostles? If that were the case, it would make sense given the role of the apostles to be witnesses of the events of Christ’s life.

It would also substantiate our faith in more than just speculations based on Old Testament prophecies. Such is what some claim, that Christianity is just a piecing together of a some messianic group’s reading of Old Testament prophecies, to prop up their guy Jesus. But if Jesus truly was witnessed to have sat down at God’s right hand, by these eleven men who went forth proclaiming what they witnessed, then we have that sure foundation which is the apostolic church.

So the apostles probably witnessed Jesus sitting at God’s right hand, and didn’t just conjecture, “Oh, Jesus disappeared behind that cloud, this must be when that prophecy about Him sitting at God’s right hand happens.” No, they knew what they saw.

So far, so good. But now we get some other interesting new questions. Did the apostles witness all the lines of the Apostles’ Creed? Sure, they witnessed the crucifixion, death, and burial, as well as the resurrection and ascension. But what about the virgin birth? The conception? What about His descent into hell? His status as God’s Son and Lord?

Well, as to that last one, His baptism and transfiguration would have verified that witness. That’s why Jesus took three disciples, after all, up the mountain. He was confirmed to be the Son of God there by God Himself, and the three disciples witnessed that.

But what about the others? Interesting, but Mary is very often part of the ascension iconography. There is no mention of her being there, but she’s often depicted there. Why mention her? Because is she to be reckoned among the apostles as an important witness of Jesus’ early years? Is there a beautiful point in considering that Mary was present with Jesus at all those critical lines of the Apostles’ Creed, and that’s why she’s included among them?

Or again, we could take this discussion into a different direction. Was Mary’s virginity proved by doctors like St. Luke, and this is why several denominations (including Lutherans) accept the idea that Mary was “ever virgin”?

Finally, what do we do with Jesus’ descent into hell, or Hades? Who witnessed that? Perhaps the saints who arose in Jerusalem on the day of Jesus’ death? Did they come forth and give testimony of what Sheol was like, and how Jesus came down, broke the bronze gates, crushed the head of the serpent, and led out the captives?

Then again, we could go beyond the second article and consider how the lines about the Father and the Holy Spirit were witnessed by the apostles.

That there’s a maker of heaven and earth everyone but a fool knows. But that this maker is “God the Father” is something only the apostles would have learned by witnessing, again, the Father at Jesus’ baptism and at the transfiguration.

The apostles witnessed the Holy Spirit and the birth of the holy Christian church on Pentecost. They were witnesses of the first “communion” of holy ones (saints) around holy things (the sacrament). They saw the resurrection of the dead when Jesus raised Lazarus, the widow’s son, and the little girl.

What does the forgiveness of sins look like? When did the apostles witness that? Was it when Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” Perhaps.

The apostles witnessed it all, but so do we, based on their testimony. There isn’t a piece of the creed that doesn’t have evidence to support it. This is so important to remember as we discuss our faith with others. Ours is not a blind faith, or a mental image, a projection of our hopes. It’s absolutely real, absolutely witnessed, absolutely certain. It takes an act of will not to believe it. And as the apostles went forth and proclaimed this good news, that was exactly its power. Here were these guys compelled to proclaim an amazing truth that they had seen. They knew it; they’re hearers knew it; and today, we still know it.

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